McConnell Hits Brakes On Tax Reform, Despite Bullish Trump Team
Always the policy bridesmaid, tax reform once again is taking a back seat as Congress debates ObamaCare repeal legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday played down expectations that any tax package can be completed before the August recess, despite Trump administration vows to pursue “historic” legislation soon. “I think finishing on tax reform will take longer,” the Kentucky Republican said in a Politico Playbook interview. “We do have to finish the health care debate … before we go to taxes.” McConnell addressed the dual goals of health care and tax legislation as his party allies work feverishly on the House side to advance a newly released replacement for the Affordable Care Act, amid bipartisan criticism. While that, too, is a top Trump priority, the president’s team has been equally bullish about the prospects for tax reform – with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin just weeks ago setting August as the goal. Fox News
VOA VIEW: The House pushed and made a mistake to get things our in a hurry.

Is President Trump Racist? Google Assistant Has An Answer For That
As people seek affirmation of their political beliefs in an increasingly polarized nation with accusations of fake news from both sides, smart device AI (artificial intelligence) is more than happy to comply. Concise, loaded questions tend to yield loaded results when querying Google Assistant, the voice-activated AI technology that comes with Google Pixel phones and Google Home – the latter a voice-activated speaker. When I asked Google Assistant, “Is Donald Trump a racist?” – an oft-repeated allegation from some on the left and much of the mainstream media – the top result I got was from the left-leaning Huffington Post, “Here Are 16 Examples of Donald Trump Being Racist” -- which gives a laundry list of reasons. The story also discusses Steve Bannon, chief strategist for the President, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Fox News
VOA VIEW: Pititful!

U.S. Economy Added 235,000 Jobs In Trump's First Full Month
The U.S. economy added a robust 235,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7% from 4.8% in the previous month. It's a vast improvement from 2009, when unemployment peaked at 10% after the financial crisis. "The U.S. economy is doing very very well at the moment," says Jeremy Cook, chief economist at World First, a foreign exchange firm. Economists say it will be a challenge for Trump to fulfill his promise to create 25 million jobs over the next 10 years. The unemployment rate is already very low, and many Baby Boomers have either retired or left the job market. At least in his first full month, though, Trump is on pace to fulfill that promise. CNN

Musk Offers To Fix Australia's Energy Crisis In 100 Days
The Tesla (TSLA) founder was responding to a challenge from billionaire entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, who wanted to know whether the company was serious in claiming that it could end blackouts in South Australia quickly. "Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?," Musk wrote on Twitter. South Australia's population of 1.7 million people suffer regular power cuts and energy shortages. In September, much of the state was left without power after a storm damaged crucial transmission lines. Another major blackout happened last month, after an unexpected spike in demand due to a heat wave. The Australian government has made solving the problem a priority, and increasing grid storage could help. That's where Tesla comes in. The electric car and battery maker has offered to provide 100 megawatt hours of battery storage at a total cost of $25 million. CNN


39.1%: CBO Says U.S. Has Highest Top Statutory Corporate Tax Rate in G20
The United States has the highest top statutory corporate tax rate—39.1%--of any nation in the G20, according to a study released Wednesday by the Congressional Budget Office. That rate is nearly twice as high as the 20-percent rate in Russia, which, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, has the lowest statutory corporate tax rate in the G20. The U.S. won the top spot on the statutory-corporate-tax-rate list after Japan and Germany, which formerly ranked first and second, cut their rates. “The United States made no change in federal corporate tax rates between 2003 and 2012,” said the CBO, “and by 2012, it had the highest top statutory rate in the G20.” CNS

Congress Probes Islamic State Counter-Propaganda Operations
Congressional investigators are demanding documents and contacting witnesses in a wide-ranging probe of the Defense Department's troubled anti-propaganda efforts against the Islamic State. The investigation by the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee follows reporting by The Associated Press in January that uncovered critical problems with the program known as WebOps and revealed conflicts of interest in a new contract potentially worth $500 million to expand psychological operations against terrorist groups.  CNS

Wall Street Rises As Investors Cheer Robust Jobs Data
U.S. stocks rose on Friday amid broad-based gains as a stellar jobs report underscored the strength of the economy, potentially giving the Federal Reserve enough ammunition to raise interest rates next week. Data showed 235,000 jobs were added in the public and private sectors in February, blowing past economists' average estimate of 190,000. The number of jobs created in January was revised up to 238,000. Unemployment rate edged down to 4.7 percent, while average earnings rose 0.2 percent in February. "This report is consistent with an exceedingly healthy labor backdrop and, I think more critically, it's a number that will embolden the Fed to raise rates in March," said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York. Reuters

Historic Ruling Grants Custody To Dad And Mom — And Mom
A Long Island couple and a neighbor with whom they had a threesome have been granted “tri-custody” of a their 10-year-old son in a groundbreaking ruling. “No one told these three people to create this unique relationship,” Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge H. Patrick Leis III wrote in the ruling for the first-of-its-kind case in New York. Bay Shore residents Dawn and Michael Marano, who wed in 1994, had a conventional marriage until they befriended downstairs neighbor Audria Garcia in 2001.  Garcia had been living with her boyfriend, but when they split up, she moved upstairs and “began to engage in intimate relations” with the Maranos, Leis’ ruling says. Because Dawn Marano, 47, was infertile, Michael Marano, 50, fathered the boy, born on Jan. 25, 2007, with Garcia, 48, court papers say. “It was agreed, before a child was conceived, that [the Maranos and Garcia] would all raise the child together as parents,” the judge said. NY Post
VOA VIEW: A major mess.

Maoist Rebel Attack Kills 11 Paramilitary Soldiers In India
Maoist rebels on Saturday shot and killed at least 11 Indian paramilitary soldiers in an ambush in central India, police said. The attack also left three soldiers wounded in the rebel-infested Sukma forest area in Chattisgarh state, top police officer R.K. Vij said. It wasn’t clear if any rebels were killed or injured when the Central Reserve Police Force soldiers returned fire, he said. The Press Trust of India news agency said the rebel attack targeted more than 100 soldiers who had gone to the area to clear a road blocked by the insurgents. The insurgents, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in central and eastern India, staging hit-and-run attacks to press their demand for a greater share of wealth and more jobs for farmers and the poor. The government says the rebels are India’s biggest internal security threat. Seattle Times

Suspected Rebel-Planted Mine Hits Yemeni Ship, Kills 2
A Yemeni coast guard vessel on Friday hit a naval mine suspected of being planted in the Red Sea by rebels and the explosion killed two sailors and wounded eight, including the ship's captain, security officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief journalists. Saudi-led coalition forces combating Shiite rebel forces, known as Houthis, in Yemen's civil war had previously warned of the presence of naval mines planted by Houthi militants in the Red Sea. Late on Friday, medical and security officials said an airstrike by the coalition killed at least a dozen civilians and wounded dozens more when it hit a crowded market in Yemen's coastal Hodeidah province. They said the death toll was likely to rise. The officials insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press. Tampa Tribune

Trump's Disputes With Local Governments Could Create Fresh Conflicts Of Interest
The Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, has a magnificent course. Just ask its namesake, U.S. President Donald Trump, who until recently was quoted on its website saying the club "provides more than a membership – it's a true luxury lifestyle." The business is worth more than $50 million and yielded more than $10 million from 2015 to early 2016, according to the financial disclosure form Trump filed last May. But seven months earlier, an attorney for Trump filed a lawsuit against the town of Ossining, New York, seeking lower taxes, claiming the course was worth only $1.4 million. The lawsuit, which remains pending, has left at least one local official worried that taking a tough negotiating stance against a business owned by the world's most powerful political figure puts her town of 25,000 residents at risk of retribution. Reuters


Florida Officer Who Fatally Shot Retiree At Police Drill Fired
The Florida police officer who fatally shot a 73-year-old retiree during a public training exercise last year is out of a job. Lee Coel, who joined the Punta Gorda Police Department in 2014, was fired effective Friday, according to the city's disciplinary decision letter obtained by NBC News. The letter says Coel, 28, can appeal the decision and is also entitled to a liberty interest hearing, in which he can attempt to clear his name in a public setting. Coel's firing comes two weeks after he was charged with felony manslaughter with a firearm in connection with the August incident that claimed the life of retired librarian Mary Knowlton. He faces up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. Coel, who has pleaded not guilty, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. Punta Gorda Police Chief Tom Lewis also faces a misdemeanor culpable negligence charge for his role in the incident and remains on administrative leave. He has said in a previous statement that he holds himself "100 percent accountable." MSNBC

Trump Urges Lawmakers To ‘Get It Done’ On Obamacare Repeal
In a meeting with key Republican lawmakers, President Trump said Friday that Congress must act swiftly to “save Americans” from Obamacare, which he said was designed for consumer costs to soar after President Obama left office. “This is the time we’re going to get it done,” Mr. Trump said at the White House, adding that 2017 is “the year it was meant to explode, because Obama won’t be here.” “As bad as it is now, it will get even worse,” Mr. Trump said. The House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce committees approved the GOP health care overhaul plan this week, and Mr. Trump thanked the chairs of those panels for their “diligent work.” “That’s what people want: they want repeal and replace,” Mr.Trump said. “We must act now to save Americans from the imploding Obamacare disaster,” adding that “premiums have skyrocketed by double digits and triple digits, in some cases.” Washington Times

House Democrats Unified In Opposition To GOP Health Care Bill
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday she does not envision a single House Democrat breaking ranks to vote in favor of the Obamacare replacement bill that GOP leaders are pushing on Capitol Hill. “I don’t see any Democratic votes for what they are doing — none,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “It isn’t even about Democrats or Republicans, it is about meeting the needs of the American people.” Republicans advanced their proposal through two committees this week. The bill has come under fire from both conservative and liberal lawmakers. President Trump and GOP leaders don’t have that much wiggle room.Without buy-in from Democrats, they cannot afford to lose more than 21 Republicans in the House and more than two votes in the Senate. Washington Times
VOA VIEW: No one cares about waht Pelosi and Democrats have to say.

Scott Pruitt’s Office Deluged With Angry Callers After He Questions The Science Of Global Warming
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s phones have been ringing off the hook — literally — since he questioned the link between human activity and climate change. The calls to Pruitt’s main line, 202-564-4700, reached such a high volume by Friday that agency officials created an impromptu call center, according to three agency employees. The officials asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Interns were dispatched to answer some of the incoming calls, according to one employee. At times, calls to that number ended up going to voice mail. EPA did not respond immediately to a request for comment. While constituents sometimes call lawmakers in large numbers to express outrage over contentious policy issues, it is unusual for Americans to target a Cabinet official. Pruitt’s comments on the CNBC program “Squawk Box” — that “we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis” over climate change — prompted an immediate pushback from many scientists and environment groups. Washington Post

St. Patrick’s Parade Organizers Will Allow Gay Vets To March
Organizers of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade reversed course on Friday and said they would allow a group of gay veterans to march in this year’s parade. The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council announced on the parade’s Twitter account that it had signed an ‘‘acceptance letter’’ that would clear the way for OutVets to participate. OutVets did not immediately say whether it would accept the invitation to march. ‘‘We are in receipt of a letter from the allied war council, and we are actively reviewing it,’’ said Dee Dee Edmondson, a lawyer for the group. An earlier vote by the council to bar OutVets from marching drew immediate condemnation from high-profile politicians, some of whom said they would not march if the gay veterans were excluded. It caused some sponsors to back out and stirred up a furor on social media. South Boston Allied War Veterans Council member Edward Flynn said Friday night he was proud the group invited OutVets to be part of the parade. Boston Herald

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Judge Rules Against Stand Your Ground Defense In Deadly Movie Theater Shooting Near Tampa
A Pasco County judge has ruled against a former police officer who was attempting to use the Stand Your Ground defense in a deadly 2014 movie theater shooting. Judge Susan Barthle ruled Friday that 74-year-old Curtis Reeves did not have to use lethal force when he shot and killed 43-year-old Chad Oulson at the theater north of Tampa, according to NBC affiliate WFLA. Reeves testified in the case, as did Oulson’s widow. The retired cop says he feared for his life following a confrontation inside the theater. Reeves said he shot Oulson after he was either punched or hit in the face with a cellphone. The judge said a videotape of the events that afternoon didn't support his testimony. The incident after the two men got into an argument because Oulson was texting his daughter's day care during the movie previews. MSNBC

Trump Administration Dismissing Congressional Budget Experts
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is warning against relying too much on the Congressional Budget Office's upcoming report on the Republican health care bill. In an interview Friday on Fox News' "Fox & Friends," Price noted that the office had previously overestimated the number of people who would purchase insurance in state and federal marketplaces under "Obamacare." Experts say the estimate was off in part because it overestimated the role a tax penalty would play in encouraging people to enroll. Price said the CBO has "been woefully underperforming when it comes to evaluating health systems. And that's not because their bad folks. It's because it's challenging stuff." CBO's current director was chosen by Republicans and served on the Council of Economic Advisers in the most recent Bush administration. ABC

Democratic AGs Step Up Legal Fight Against Trump Travel Ban
In stepping up legal challenges to President Donald Trump's revised travel ban, Democratic attorneys general are trying to use the court system to thwart the executive branch in the same way their GOP counterparts did under President Barack Obama. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday he was asking a federal judge to find that his order last month halting the old travel ban applies to the new one, too. Ferguson's action came a day after Hawaii launched its own lawsuit. Washington, Minnesota, Oregon, New York and Massachusetts planned to file a new complaint challenging the revised travel ban Monday. "My message to President Trump is: Not so fast," Ferguson said. Ferguson and his fellow Democratic attorneys general are now doing what Republicans did when Obama was in office — filing lawsuits to block policies. Republican attorneys general took Obama to court over a variety of issues, most notably his health care legislation. ABC

Philly Tweets About Workplace Sexism Touch Nerve, Go Viral
Martin R. Schneider worked at a small Philadelphia company that edits and rewrites resumes when suddenly a client communicating through email became "impossible. Rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions." Schneider later noticed, because of a shared inbox, he had accidentally signed his emails as "Nicole," a co-worker. When he began communicating with the client correctly as himself,  there was an "immediate improvement" in their relationship. Schneider, of Center City, and Nicole Hallberg, who lives in Delaware County, decided to try an experiment: they switched genders and communicated with their clients as each other. "I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned," Schneider said. "Nicole had the most productive weeks of her career," he said. This happened in 2014. On Thursday, Schneider took to Twitter because he was inspired by International Women's Day the day before, he liked to tell stories through tweets, and "I was bored on my lunch break." His tweets went viral. Philadelphia Inquirer
VOA VIEW: The liberal media is a major problem and danger.

Nearly Three Dozen Cases Of Rare, Deadly Fungal Infection Reported In U.S.
Nearly three dozen people in the United States have been diagnosed with a deadly and highly drug-resistant fungal infection since federal health officials first warned U.S. clinicians last June to be on the lookout for the emerging pathogen that has been spreading around the world. The fungus, a strain of a kind of yeast known as Candida auris, has been reported in a dozen countries on five continents starting in 2009, where it was first found in an ear infection in a patient in Japan. Since then, the fungus has been reported in Colombia, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Pakistan, South Korea, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. Unlike garden variety yeast infections, this one causes serious bloodstream infections, spreads easily from person to person in health-care settings, and survives for months on skin and for weeks on bed rails, chairs and other hospital equipment. Some strains are resistant to all three major classes of antifungal drugs. Sun Sentinel

President Trump's Budget Expected To Roll Back Funding Of Climate Research
President Trump isn’t just keeping a campaign promise to roll back climate change regulations. He appears to be moving ahead to do away with the science behind the effort. The White House has drafted a preliminary budget blueprint that would hack hundreds of millions of research dollars out of the EPA and other agencies tracking the effects of global warming in what would be a stark contrast to the policies under President Obama. Environmental activists say rolling back rules designed to protect health and ecology is bad enough. But gutting the fact-finding and academic analysis behind the rules poses far-reaching consequences. "If the Trump administration pulls the plug on this, the world goes dark," said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. USA Today


On Foreign Affairs, Trump's Role Unclear And Tillerson's Influence Curbed
As the U.S. escalates military action in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, there is yet to be any articulation of policy from the Trump administration. The White House simply says that the president is “aware” of the deployment in Syria. At the White House briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about exactly how involved the president was in the decision to deploy a couple hundred Marines into Syria with heavy artillery guns, and whether this was part of his wider anti-ISIS strategy.“Obviously, the President was made aware of that,” Spicer responded. “This is something that was done in consultation.  He understands the regional issues that need to be addressed there, and, again, I would refer you back to the Department of Defense on that.” It isn’t clear what -- if any -- role the president played in overseeing the decision, but it likely indicates that the Pentagon has more freedom to make this sort of decision. Spicer said the president had taken advice from his generals and admirals but downplayed the importance of asking Congress to authorize military action in Syria as this was just “sending a few hundred advisers.” CBS

Trump-Obama Post From Sheriff's Office Sparks Outrage
An Illinois sheriff defended his office’s use of a social media post involving President Trump and former President Obama after some criticized it and similar posts as racist, CBS Chicago reports. The Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office Facebook and Twitter feeds both feature a picture of Mr. Obama having climbed up the outside of Trump Tower, looking into Mr. Trump’s home while holding binoculars. Mr. Trump is inside the home. The image is part of a campaign to remind people to lock up by 9 p.m. and report suspicious activity to police. Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said there’s been a rash of home and car burglaries and that the campaign -- which features the hashtag #9PMRoutine -- is supposed to be a catchy way of reminding people to lock up at night. On Facebook, some comments criticize the sheriff’s office for being racist, unprofessional, offensive and inappropriate. Others say they find it funny. Downey said the post featuring Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump wasn’t designed to do anything but grab attention. CBS

Netherlands Cancels Landing Permission For Turkish Minister
The Dutch government on Saturday withdrew landing permission for the Turkish foreign minister's aircraft, drawing the ire of the Turkish president and escalating a diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies over campaigning for a Turkish referendum on constitutional reform. The Dutch government said in a statement it had withdrawn the permission because of "risks to public order and security" caused by the proposed visit of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Rotterdam. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised retaliation against Dutch diplomatic flights. "You can stop our foreign minister's plane all you want, let's see how your planes will come to Turkey from now on," Erdogan said at a rally in Istanbul. "They do not know politics or international diplomacy," said Erdogan and added, "these Nazi remnants, they are fascists" with the crowds booing. Charlotte Observer

Many Kansas And Missouri Republicans Are Unsure About GOP Health Insurance Measure
The Republicans’ Obamacare replacement bill is a tough sell so far for many Kansas and Missouri Republican congressmen and senators. With Democrats expected to oppose the rewrite of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Republicans in the House of Representatives have a small margin for error. They can afford to lose only about 20 votes for the bill to pass. GOP Reps. Kevin Yoder of Kansas and Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves of Missouri and Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran are not voicing support, at least not yet. They haven’t specified their concerns, saying they want more time to scrutinize the complex legislation. Republican supporters include Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Ninety-seven of Missouri’s 114 counties offer only one insurance option on the Obamacare exchange, said Blunt, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team. Many companies may not offer any options next year if Congress does not act, he said. Kansas City Star
VOA VIEW: The new health care bill is not what America wanted.

Wildfire Season Could Be Hot, Damaging In Florida — Thanks To La Niña
This wildfire season in Florida, Smokey Bear may be in for a workout. A warm, dry winter linked to the La Niña weather pattern has turned the state into a tinderbox. And the conditions have come on the tail of a very wet and fecund El Niño that spurred lots of plant growth, meaning there’s plenty of fuel to burn. Already, hundreds of fires have scorched the state, including a 7,500-acre fire that swept across the Picayune Strand state forest in Collier County last week and wafted the smell of smoke across South Florida. With temperatures expected to remain above average, state officials are increasingly worried that Florida could see a repeat of 1998, when wildfires engulfed more than a half million acres, forced the evacuation of all of Flagler County and destroyed at least 50 houses in a single night in Port St. Lucie. “This is eerily similar to the 1998 fire season, which was one of the worst in decades,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said this week. Miami Herald

Oil's Plunge Below $50 Sends Options Trading Into A Frenzy
A record number of options contracts -- equivalent to more than 800 million barrels of crude oil -- changed hands on Thursday, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg. The tally includes trading for Brent and West Texas Intermediate crude in London and New York and shows a surge in bets that the former will reach $70 a barrel by September. The trading, which allows investors to protect themselves or profit from price swings, takes place as the market emerges from its least volatile period in years. Since Nov. 30, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to curb output for the first six months of this year, prices have hovered above $50 a barrel. That period of calm ended as WTI fell to its lowest level since the OPEC deal, amid rising U.S. stockpiles that threaten to prolong the global glut. Bloomberg

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American Diplomats’ Comfort With Tillerson Gives Way To Unease
U.S. diplomats breathed a sigh of relief three months ago when Rex Tillerson was nominated as secretary of state, welcoming the oilman as a seasoned manager who would shield them from ideologues ready to gut America’s foreign policy machinery. Yet that comfort is now giving way to unease, as the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief embraces President Donald Trump’s vision. Tillerson supports the president’s goal to cut the State Department budget and shift its mission away from existing initiatives such as climate change, global health and development assistance beyond key allies, according to half a dozen people familiar with his thinking who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters. “The issue isn’t a lack of resources, it’s how do we refocus the department on its core priorities, and this is a way of getting at that,” said Brett Schaefer, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has advocated a restructuring of the department but says he isn’t advising Tillerson. Bloomberg

Pope Open To Studying Ordination Of Married Men As Priests
Pope Francis says the church must study whether it's possible to ordain married men to minister in remote communities facing priest shortages. In an interview published Thursday with Germany's Die Zeit, Francis stressed that removing the celibacy rule is not the answer to the Catholic Church's priest shortage. But he expressed an openness to studying whether so-called "viri probati" — or married men of proven faith — could be ordained. "We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities," he was quoted as saying. The "viri probati" proposal has been around for decades, but it has drawn fresh attention under history's first Latin American pope thanks in part to his appreciation of the challenges facing the church in places like Brazil, a huge Catholic country with an acute shortage of priests. Las Vegas Sun

Twin Blasts Kill 40 Near Religious Sites In Syria's Capital
Twin explosions Saturday near religious shrines frequented by Shiite pilgrims in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 40 people, Syria's interior minister and media reported. Syria State TV aired footage from the scene showing blood-soaked streets and several damaged buses in a parking lot, apparently where the explosions went off near Bab al-Saghir cemetery. The cemetery is one of the capital's most ancient and is where several prominent religious figures are buried. Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar visited the injured in local hospitals. He said 40 were killed and 120 were injured. He said the attacks targeted civilians, including Arab visitors, who were frequenting the shrines in the area. He didn't elaborate, but Iraqi Shiites often visit shrines in Syria. Iranians and other Shiites from Asia are often also among the pilgrims to the area. There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosions. Houston Chronicle

Attack On Rhinoceros In Paris Puts Zoo Security In Spotlight
The brazen killing of a rhinoceros at a wildlife park near Paris by assailants who removed a horn valued at nearly triple the price of gold has put zookeepers on notice that poaching could be spreading beyond the killing fields of Africa and Asia. Demand for the horns is skyrocketing in Asia, where they are ground into a powder and used for medicinal purposes by some who believe it cures everything from cancer to hangovers. More than 90 zoos in the United States housing rhinoceros adhere to rigorous security requirements and comply with regular inspections for accreditation, said Dan Ashe, president and chief executive of the Maryland-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But he conceded Friday: "Nobody is insulated from this potential; we have made sure our members are aware of what occurred in Paris and they are quite vigilant. Everybody is sobered." Atlanta Journal

Most Veterans Groups Remain Silent On Marine Nude Pix Scandal
In  the wake of the still-unfolding Marines United scandal, the nation’s major veterans service organizations largely have stayed silent. The San Diego Union-Tribune canvassed eight of these groups that together represent nearly 6 million people and found that nearly all of them haven’t taken a public stand on the case, in which former and current members of the Marine Corps and Navy are accused of sexual misconduct and cyber bullying. Most of the groups have kept mum or, when pressed, said they would wait for the military’s investigations to conclude and then take their cues from service leaders. These organizations include the Marine Corps League and the Women Marines Association. Authorities are probing allegations that members of Marines United swapped salacious images of female service members, denigrated them with sexually violent language and, after their private Facebook page was closed down at the request of the Pentagon, began creating new online forums to continue their shenanigans. San Diego Union

Top Trump Confidante Admits To Speaking Privately With Guccifer 2.0, An Alleged Russian Cyberspy
President Donald Trump's former campaign adviser and longtime confidante Roger Stone said he exchanged private messages with a hacker implicated in a massive cyberattack that targeted the Democratic National Committee last year. Stone told Business Insider late Thursday night that he had a private conversation on Twitter with the person, nicknamed "Guccifer 2.0," and that the interaction was so "brief and banal, I had forgotten it." Guccifer 2.0 has said that they targeted Democrats in the heat of the election last summer. One such cyberattack hit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, leading to the release of email addresses and phone numbers belonging to nearly 200 Democratic congressional members on August 12, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time. Guccifer 2.0 has denied having any links to Russia. SF Gate
VOA VIEW: The truth is...

Trump Team Was Told Flynn Might Need To Register
The White House has confirmed the president's transition team was informed before Inauguration Day that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn might need to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department. That's according to a White House official and a person with direct knowledge of discussions between transition lawyers and Flynn representatives. The White House had been unclear about when it was told of Flynn's lobbying that may have aided the Turkish government. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Thursday he didn't believe President Donald Trump knew of Flynn's foreign agent work before his appointment. Flynn registered this week with the Justice Department. The person wasn't authorized to describe confidential conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity. Las Vegas Sun

Volkswagen Pleads Guilty In U.S. Diesel Emissions Scandal
Volkswagen pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and obstruction of justice in a brazen scheme to get around U.S. pollution rules on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles by using software to suppress emissions of nitrogen oxide during tests. The German automaker has agreed to pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties — the largest ever levied by the U.S. government against an automaker — although VW's total cost of the scandal has been pegged at about $21 billion, including a pledge to repair or buy back vehicles. U.S. regulators confronted VW about the software after West Virginia University researchers discovered differences in testing and real-world emissions. Volkswagen at first denied the use of the so-called defeat device but finally admitted it in September 2015. Even after that admission, company employees were busy deleting computer files and other evidence, VW's general counsel Manfred Doss acknowledged to U.S. District Judge Sean Cox. Summing up the scandal, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Neal said it was a "calculated offense," not a "momentary lapse of judgment." Las Vegas Sun

South Korea's Disgraced President Booted From Power By Court
South Korea's Constitutional Court removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office in a unanimous ruling Friday over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil and worsened an already-serious national divide. The decision capped a stunning fall for the country's first female leader, who rode a wave of lingering conservative nostalgia for her late dictator father to victory in 2012, only to see her presidency crumble as millions of furious protesters filled the nation's streets. Two people died during protests that followed the ruling. Police and hospital officials said about 30 protesters and police officers were injured in the violent clashes near the court, which prompted Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the country's acting head of state, to plead for peace and urge Park's angry supporters to move on. Newsday

House GOP Health Bill Would Cut Women's Services
Women seeking abortions and some basic health services, including prenatal care, contraception and cancer screenings, would face restrictions and struggle to pay for some of that medical care under the House Republicans' proposed bill. The legislation, which would replace much of former President Barack Obama's health law, was approved by two House committees on Thursday. Republicans are hoping to move quickly to pass it, despite unified opposition from Democrats, criticism from some conservatives who don't think it goes far enough and several health groups who fear millions of Americans would lose coverage and benefits. The bill would prohibit for a year any funding to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women's health services, restrict abortion access in covered plans on the health exchange and scale back Medicaid services used by many low-income women, among other changes. Newsday

Oversight Committee Concerned About Trump Deleting Tweets
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the White House could be violating federal records laws when President Donald Trump's deletes his tweets. Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on Wednesday sent a letter to the White House and 55 federal agencies, including all Cabinet departments, requesting information on how they are each complying with the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act. In a statement, the committee said the members sent the letters because of reports "White House officials and federal employees are using various messaging applications to conduct official business" that could violate the records laws. Such records and government transparency laws are designed to "ensure the official business of the federal government is properly preserved and accessible to the American public," the letter reads. UPI

Japan To Withdraw Troops From South Sudan
Japan will no longer maintain peacekeeping forces in South Sudan after May, according to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The deployment of Tokyo's self-defense forces to the conflict zone, which allowed Japanese troops for the first time to engage in armed combat during "joint protection" of camps, will come to a close because conditions in the country's capital are now "relatively stable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, according to The Japan Times.  But Kyodo news agency reported the decision was made abruptly due to the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan. Tokyo's self-defense forces may also have not been properly informed of the top government decision ahead of the announcement. Abe had agreed to troop withdrawal after a meeting with his national security council. UPI

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Trump Invites PA President Abbas To White House
US President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Friday during the first phone call between the two leaders. According to Abbas' spokesman, Trump expressed his desire for "real peace" in the region, after previously telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would work to reboot peace talks. Negotiations have not occurred in earnest since 2014. Abbas was invited to visit Washington "very soon," his spokesman said. Trump said he and Abbas planned to "discuss ways to resume the political process," reported Wafa, an official Palestinian news outlet. Trump considers the Middle East peace process one of his top foreign policy priorities, according to senior administration officials. President Abbas added that he firmly supports "he establishment of Palestinian state alongside Israel. Jerusalem Post

State Department Was 'Unaware' Of Mexico Visit
State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said he was "unaware" the foreign minister was in Washington. The secretary of state typically receives foreign diplomats during visits to the nation's capital. The disconnect comes amid reports that the State Department has been sidelined in matters of foreign policy. "We'll take that and get back to you. I was unaware that he was - the foreign minister was in town," Mr Toner said at a news conference on Thursday. "I can't speak to whether there's going to be any meetings at the State Department at any level," he continued.  Mr Videgaray met President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, National Economic Council Directory Gary Cohn and National Security Adviser HR McMaster on Thursday. BBC

Vitaly Churkin: US Will Not Release Cause Of Russian's Death
The US state department has instructed New York City's chief medical examiner not to disclose the cause of death of Russia's ambassador to the United Nations. Vitaly Churkin died suddenly at work in his New York office last month. The office of the chief medical examiner said that details of his death were being withheld to comply with international law. Mr Churkin had served as ambassador to the UN since 2006. The cause of the veteran diplomat's death remains unclear. "The New York City Law Department has instructed the Office of Chief Medical Examiner to not publicly disclose the cause and manner of death of Ambassador Vitaly Churkin," a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, Julie Bolcer, said in a statement."Ambassador Churkin's diplomatic immunity survives his death," the statement, which was posted online by New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum, added. BBC

Nancy Pelosi Urges FBI Director To Debunk Donald Trump's Wiretap Claim
The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has called on the FBI director to publicly dispute Donald Trump’s explosive and so far baseless claim that Barack Obama wiretapped phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election. Pelosi, who is a member of the House intelligence committee, said the claim “couldn’t possibly be true” and wondered whether Trump fully understood the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), which is the law that allows the surveillance of foreign powers and their agents with the approval of a secret court. “Theoretically, do I think that a director of the FBI who knows for a fact that something is a mythology but is misleading to the American people … should set the record straight? Yes, I do think he should say that, publicly,” Pelosi said during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Friday morning. Guardian

'Trump Lies All The Time': Bernie Sanders Indicts President's 'Assault On Democracy'
Bernie Sanders has launched a withering attack on Donald Trump, accusing him of being a pathological liar who is driving America towards authoritarianism.In an interview with the Guardian, the independent senator from Vermont, who waged a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, gave a bleak appraisal of the new White House and its intentions. He warned that Trump’s most contentious outbursts against the media, judiciary and other pillars of American public life amounted to a conscious assault on democracy.“Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that. He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.” Guardian
VOA VIEW: Expected from a socialist big mouth.

Man, 80, Assaulted With Machete Hours After Nine Hurt In Station Axe Rampage By Asylum-Seeker
An elderly man was attacked with a machete in Dusseldorf on Friday, hours after a similar attack by a mentally ill asylum seeker wielding an axe left nine people injured at the city's train station. The 80-year-old machete victim, who has not been named, was rushed to hospital after being assaulted in a car park on the northern outskirts of Dusseldorf. His attacker remains at large. Teachers and students at the nearby Theodor-Fliedner-Gymnasium were told to stay indoors, while police cordoned off a woodland area near Kalkumer Schlossallee, the site of the car park. Hours before he was attacked, a 36-year-old man from Kosovo wounded nine passengers with an axe at Dusseldorf train station before trying to escape by jumping from a bridge onto a street, where he was arrested. Telegraph

Arnold Schwarzenegger Reportedly Considering A Senate Run - Taking His Quarrel With Donald Trump To The Next Level
Arnold Schwarzenegger is reportedly weighing a run for the US Senate raising the tantalising prospect of a showdown with Donald Trump on the political stage.The Terminator star and former Republican governor of California is already engaged in a very public feud with the president, and has long been touted as a politician with the sort of name recognition and centrist credentials to tackle Mr Trump’s hardline policies on immigration and the environment. His spokesman declined to dismiss the growing buzz that he plans a political comeback with a Senate run next year. “Right now Governor Schwarzenegger’s focus is on using his platform to bring some sensibility and coherency to Washington by fighting for redistricting reform, like we did in California,’’ Daniel Ketchell told Politico. “We are keeping all of our options open as far as how we can accomplish that.” Telegraph

As Fresh Violence In Yemen Sends Thousands Fleeing Their Homes, UN Agency Urges International Support
With tens of thousands of civilians forced to flee their homes following a spike in fighting across western and central Yemen, the United Nations refugee agency today appealed for more international support, as well as unrestricted access within the country so that it can reach those now facing “abysmal conditions.” According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 62,000 Yemenis have been displaced over the last six weeks. “A number of those displaced, including many children, have been reported as suffering from malnutrition, while others are distressed and in need of psycho-social assistance,” William Spindler, a spokesperson for the UN agency, told journalists at a media briefing at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) today. “Many of those displaced are in urgent need of food, shelter and medicine and lack adequate water and sanitation facilities. A number of women also reported psychological distress and malnutrition.” UN News

Colombian Fighting Displaced More Than 900 Families Since January - UN Agency
Despite a peace agreement, ongoing fighting in the Colombian Pacific Coast has displaced more than 3,500 people so far this year – many of them from the Afro-Colombian or indigenous communities, the United Nations refugee agency today announced. The violence comes despite a peace agreement signed last Novembers between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC. “Since the signing of the peace agreement, increased violence by new armed groups has resulted in killings, forced recruitment — including of children — gender-based violence and limited access to education, water and sanitation, as well as movement restrictions and forced displacement of the civilian population,” said William Spindler, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UN News

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